Reflections on Defeat

Losing an election is no fun. You start the day running scenarios through your mind. In fact, you’ve spent the last few months running scenarios through your mind.

If Conservatives vote for me, we’ll have x votes. How many will vote UKIP? How many Independent? Will Labour voters only switch to Plaid? (It turns out that, pretty much, they will). What will they do with their second preference votes? Will more go to him or her? As the count approaches these calculations reach fever pitch.

Then you arrive. Suddenly everything goes calm. You wait, watch, pace and wait. In the background counters bundle votes into piles; the currency of democracy accumulating like bullion in a bank. Counting agents observe and report numbers.

I’d known since the results for Assembly seats were declared on Friday morning that my prospects were very uncertain. As the count wore on, they diminished to nothing. There’s no way of sugaring the pill. It’s horrible.

Perhaps the greatest frustration of losing is realising that the plans you have discussed so enthusiastically across so many doorsteps will come to nothing. I loved my term as police and crime commissioner. I enjoyed the campaign. I peddled my plans with feverish enthusiasm. The voters, it turns out, peddled them back. Such is democracy.

Whatever my personal disappointment, the public have had their say. That is a good thing. It is one of the reasons I stood for the post in the first place. I was fortunate to get one chance.

As in any new venture, I’m sure I got as much wrong as I got right. But I’m confident that on the few big questions – the ones that define a term of office – I delivered on my promises. We have more officers than when I started. They are fully funded and sustainable. We reduced crime and antisocial behaviour, which blight people’s lives regardless of how ’serious’ they appear. We have far more extensive support for victims of crime, from domestic abuse to neighbourhood disputes. We managed that while saving public money, which we had to do since less is available.

What went wrong? Something did, because I failed to convince voters to put me back.

Was it CCTV? Or the helicopter? Was it a decision, which began with a suggestion from the force’s finance team and went completely unremarked at the time, to stop charging the Royal Welsh Show around £40k for policing because it was not consistent with other police forces’ practice? This seemed entirely sensible to me but generated a foaming rage on social media.

Was it simply that elections for the Assembly swamped the PCC elections, encouraged voting on party lines and drove up turnout unfavourable to Conservatives? In which case, will it reverse in 2020 when elections coincide with the General Election?

Time will tell. It might be all of these. For now, here is some of what I will miss – and won’t miss – about this role.

I will miss:

  • Policing in action. Seeing officers and PCSOs walk their patch and greet – it sometimes seemed – everyone by name. Hearing about offenders prosecuted or victims supported. Knowing of people who have broken free from abuse thanks to services I have commissioned.
  • Discovering Wales. The road from Llandeilo to Lampeter, via Talley, in early summer must be one of the loveliest in Britain. Pembrokeshire’s hidden villages. And Radnorshire – but I knew that anyway.
  • The team. Bringing new skills into the PCC office and building existing staff was a pleasure. And much needed. So was seeing new services begin, good officers get promoted or PCSOs take up initiatives in their local area.

What I won’t miss:

  • Online bores, though I doubt they will go away completely. The worst thing about losing is that some of them seem to think it’s their posts wot did it. Not the 187,000 votes, you see.
  • Carmarthenshire County Council. Wales’ answer to a Sicilian cartel. It’s everywhere you look (thankfully only in Carmarthenshire – so far as I can tell). It extracts vast amounts of money from residents which it showers on favourites, hordes property, bullies opponents, co-opts friends and answers to no one, least of all local councillors.
  • The police mob. By far the majority of officers are wonderful (see above). But there’s a strain of police thinking, present in all forces and – at least in part – at all ranks, which, frankly, still does not understand who the police work for.

Police forces exist to serve the public, not police officers. Police and crime commissioners are one part of a package of reforms to ensure that is the case. I had a general sense of their need in 2012. I am certain of them now.

Which brings me to my final observation. My successor here must demonstrate that he stands for the public, not his old police colleagues. If he wants to defend local policing he will find his opponents not in Westminster, as he thinks, but among national senior ranks, inspectorates, staff associations and in Cardiff Bay. Will he stand for local people and fight his party masters, as he accused me of failing to do? We will see.

He and his colleagues inherit these reforms with much to do. We all get to judge them in 2020, when candidates will again be running scenarios through their minds. I wish them well.